A country grocery with self-service gas pumps. Fresh milk at low prices. Coldest beer on a twenty-mile stretch. The owner runs an ad in the paper wanting “sharp person to run my store on evenings.” I answer the ad, and strangely enough, I’m hired.
The first night I walk into the store, time stops. The owner puts me through the “get them in, smile, get them out,” condensed-customer schema of business. Always keep your guard up. One eye on the pumps, the other eye on blacks. You can’t trust them. The proprietor is a master at this — not trusting people. But realizing he has just hired me, and seeking to justify such a decision, he draws a bridge between heads-up salesmanship and my seeming unawareness: I work the register and he does the talking. Okay.
Lost on the fluorescent prairie of candy wrappers and swollen labels, I find myself noticing people — really noticing them.
Lost on the fluorescent prairie of candy wrappers and swollen labels, I find myself noticing people — really noticing them. I’m surprised that in this high-pressure situation, the roads between my brain and tongue wind out to nowhere. There are no words, only the peace generated in bright eyes. For me, the existential wand of Southern politeness is put aside, magically. Speaking without words is like bleeding. The actualization of color in the chest. A chapter in flesh-tones. A swim in the energy that moves people, that draws on the subtle influence of inner mysteries — those essences which are the source of human action.
A man wearing a beret comes into the store. His eyes are wild and soft, like climbing blooms closed on darkness, then opened. Talking to him without words is like rare metals crossed with violins. Am I deluding myself with this attention to inner worlds? Trying to etch TRUTH in bold letters on the horizon? Because beer is still $1.95 a six folks; country boys come in, buy two fruit pies, stick one in each breast pocket and get me laughing. Then some old guy will suck a beer for a half-hour, and give dissertations on how the wife tailored his over-alls so he’d have a rough time getting to his wallet.